(Photo of the interior of a brooder house on Craig Holden's turkey farm, my photo)
Methodology Thanksgiving History The Turkey Industry Culture of Thanksgiving food Thanksgiving and the Environment Literature Review
Minnesota is consistently number one or two in turkey production nationwide, swapping the to position with North Carolina. In 2003, it was reported that the turkey industry in Minnesota contributes 10,000 jobs to the state, and generates $507 million in economic activity to Minnesota each year (Powell). In 2003, Minnesota was number one, raising 45.5 million of the nation’s 270 million turkeys, and generating $600 million in income (Willete). One of the reasons that the Upper Midwest is a hot spot for turkey farmers is that grain supplies (corn and soybeans) are plentiful and cheap, which is important because turkeys eat about $164 million worth of grains per year (Powell 2003: 1D).
At their Northfield farm, Karen Zimmerman, and her son, John raise 180,000-200,000 turkeys per year, equal to 2.8 million pounds of turkey meat. The Zimmermans are among the last of America’s independent turkey farmers. Overall, there are about 250 independent turkey growers in Minnesota, most affiliated with some sort of processing company. The Zimmermans fight the belief among some citizens that are convinced that hormones or steroids are given to turkeys to increase yield The Zimmermans claim to treat turkeys with antibiotics only when turkeys are sick (Powell).
I was not able to obtain an interview with the Zimmermans because I was unable to track them down. All information about the Zimmermans was obtained through a newspaper article from the Star Tribune.
(Turkey porches built by Howard Holden (Craig's father, in the 1950s, designed to keep the turkeys off of disease-infested soil, photo courtesy of MTGA publication)
The Holdens (Interview with Craig Holden)
Craig Holden was very open to an interview and was very enthusiastic about sharing stories and information about his family and their involvement in the turkey industry. The Holdens have been a part of the turkey business for over fifty years. Craig Holden owns a fourth generation farm, as his family came to the Northfield area around the turn of the century. When his father first began raising turkeys in the 1950s after the milking parlor burned down, turkeys were raised on rangeland. At Thanksgiving time his father would put the turkeys in his Model-T and drive up and down the road, selling them to customers. In the 1960s, Northfield was marked by the three-H turkey farmers: Holden’s, Haugen’s and Hovan’s. In 1971, the farm officially became Holden Farms. In 1973, Craig Holden’s father, Howard, died on Thanksgiving Day, something that to this day, seems to speak of a strange irony to Craig Holden.
Holden explains that the 1960s saw a split in agriculture towards a more specialized system of agriculture. Holden Farms began investing in buildings and infrastructure, and followed the specialization trend by only raising turkeys and hogs by the 1970s. Holden says that the reason for this change is that, “(raising) a lot of different crops and speciation takes a more sophisticated farmer.”
In 1987, Holden branched out by starting up his own fertilizer manufacturing plant, an organic fertilizer company called Sustane. In the past, Holden sold his turkeys to Iowa Turkey Processors (ITP), which was one of the last small turkey processors. In 2003, however, ITP burned down and Holden was left without a buyer for his turkeys. After calling around and finding little interest, he eventually got a contract with Jennie-O Turkey Farm, which pays him 9 cents a pound. The north farm on his property he raises for his cousin, Dick Peterson, who invested along with Holden’s brother in a turkey processing plant in Marshall, MN, Turkey Valley Farms.
Holden both appreciates what turkey farming has done for his family and acknowledges some of the negative aspects of turkey farming and the larger American agricultural system. Holden discussed how the business feeds his family anfd pays the bills, but that the farm is not expanding. He sees the difficulties that oversaturation in the marketplace pose, and the weakened role of the farmer in today's agricultural system. Holden also worries that the next generation of young people are uninterested in farming and is unsure of what will become of his own farm once he retires. Nevertheless, he is thankful every autumn for the bounty that Thanksgiving represents and the wholesome and nutritious food available.
Interview with Dick Peterson
Peterson Turkey Hatchery in Cannon Falls, MN is run by Craig Holden's cousin, Dick Peterson. The hatchery is the smallest in the state of Minnesota, and hatches 700,000 day-old turkeys a year. Peterson's father began the business in the 1930s, and when his father died, Peterson took over. In the 1960s and 1970s it became more difficult to sell poults individually, so Peterson and his associates had to become involved in processing if they wanted to stay in business. Peterson terms the growing, raising, and processing at the hatchery "integration on a very small scale." Most of the toms (male turkeys) raised at the hatchery are cut up and sent on to further processing. Approximately 50 percent of the turkeys end up as bagged turkeys.
Peterson says that growth hormones are not used on the turkeys at his hatchery, and that use of hormones in the turkey industry is a large misconception. According to Peterson, the most important environmental issue in turkey farming is manure disposal, which in his case is disposed of through Craig Holden's organic fertilizer company. The volume of manure, and the byproduct it leaves behind become more of an issue with large flocks, although Peterson also believes that waste is more regulated with the larger farms. Peterson also thinks that smaller farms are more often culprits in environmental problems than large farms, due to less stringent regulation of the smaller farms. This response was interesting in that Peterson partly represents smaller farms and competes against some of the larger producers. Peterson noted that one of the largest changes in turkey farming is the increased consolidation. He said that the solution is to become aligned with someone bigger, an idea that he has seemingly come to accept.
(Grady McCulley, an early pioneer in the turkey industry, here with his flock in Maple Plain, MN, photo courtesy of the MTGA)
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